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Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays

No Surprises

Ann E. LaForge, New York-based author of “Tantrums: Secrets to Calming the Storm” and “What Really Happens in Schools” as well as a mother of two school-aged children, also believes that children fare best when the holidays are predictable.

“Adults enjoy surprises,” she said, “but children generally prefer to know what’s going to happen. They are fine if they know they are going to get one or two of the things they really want, but are bound to be disappointed if they find out at the very last minute that they haven’t.”

LaForge recommends creating a family “wish list” for desired items that, for one reason or another, won’t be available on the day presents are exchanged.

“For example, we already know that we can’t get the popular PlayStation 2 in time for this holiday season because they are in such demand,” she explained. “But we will keep it on our list and get one for the next special holiday, like Valentine’s Day in February.”

Dealing with Disappointment

Holiday disappointment can have an upside, too. Even the disappointment children experience when every holiday wish isn’t granted can have a positive impact on their character in the long term, according to Namka.

“Kids actually need many little trials and tribulations, failures and disappointments to mature emotionally,” she said. “Learning to deal with these feelings increases their social competence and resilience. When parents try to spare them by buying everything as soon as they ask for it, kids never develop the ability to handle setbacks. Trying to insulate children from every small disappointment is a mistake.”

Not ‘What’ Present But ‘Why’

Julie Creighton, director of the Duracell Kid’s Choice Toy Survey, is an expert on children’s holiday expectations. And in years when the hottest toys are in short supply, she’s an expert on kids’ disappointment, too.

“Parents should be less concerned with what their child wants for a gift and more concerned with why they want it,” Creighton said. “If you ask children what they want, they give you the marketing information they’ve been fed by the media. But if you ask them why they want it, you’ll learn what meaning the toy has in their lives.”

In selecting children’s gifts, Creighton explains that play value is important. Play value refers to how children use the toy or game to meet their developmental needs.

“When you know why a child wants a particular toy, it’s often possible to find a more affordable or acceptable alternative with the same play value,” she added. “When the child’s purpose of wanting a gift is met, any disappointment fades quickly. By New Year’s Day, it’s a favorite toy.”

Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays

Holly VanScoy, Ph.D

APA Reference
VanScoy, H. (2020). Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.